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Hall of Fame class of 2012 inductee profile: Robert Wheeler

Robert Wheeler with Silver Spoon (left) and Bug Brush (NMR Collection)

By BRIEN BOUYEA, Communications Officer      

When C.V. Whitney decided to send a string of horses to the West Coast he did plenty of research into finding the proper trainer. After weighing his many options, Whitney selected Robert Wheeler, an ex-cowboy and rodeo star. Whitney, as he usually did, chose wisely.

“If a horse has anything at all, turn him over to Bob Wheeler and he’ll bring it out,” Whitney once said.

Wheeler enjoyed tremendous success working for Whitney and numerous other major stables, including J. Rukin Jelks, Greentree Stable, and Nelson Bunker Hunt, among others. In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Wheeler conditioned 56 stakes-winning horses, including Hall of Famer Silver Spoon and champion Track Robbery.

Born on June 21, 1920 in Crawford, Neb., Wheeler took a job in his teens breaking yearlings at Woolford Farm in Missouri. Among the horses he worked with was Lawrin, the 1938 Kentucky Derby winner. Wheeler worked for Woolford for five years before riding broncos and bulls on the western rodeo circuit. Injuries forced him to give Thoroughbred training a try.

Wheeler won 1,336 races from 1938 through 1992. He won 10 stakes with the filly Silver Spoon, including the 1959 Santa Anita Derby. Wheeler repeated in the Santa Anita Derby in 1960 with Tompion. He also conditioned Bug Brush, winner of six stakes as a 4-year-old. Bug Brush set a world record for 1⅛ miles in the 1959 San Antonio Stakes. Bug Brush and Silver Spoon won back-to-back runnings of the Santa Margarita Handicap in 1959 and 1960, respectively, and combined for 14 stakes victories at Santa Anita in those two years.

Other significant races won by Wheeler horses included five runnings of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, three editions of the Santa Margarita Handicap and Santa Anita Oaks (formerly the Santa Susana Stakes), and two victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Del Mar Oaks.

The success continued for Wheeler as the years and decades passed. During the late 1970s, he won a total of 17 stakes with the fillies Taisez Vous and B. Thoughtful, including back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita. He guided Track Robbery to the 1982 Eclipse Award for older filly or mare and he was still active in the game when he died in 1992. At the time of his passing, Wheeler ranked fifth all time in stakes wins at Santa Anita.

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Velazquez, Attfield, Wheeler and Ghostzapper elected to National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame

John Velazquez (photo by Brien Bouyea)

Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year, jockey John Velazquez and trainers Roger Attfield and Robert Wheeler have been elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.

The class of 2012 will be inducted on Friday, Aug. 10, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion at 10:30 a.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Ghostzapper, Velazquez, Attfield and Wheeler were elected in the contemporary category by the 183 members of the Hall of Fame voting panel.

Ghostzapper (Awesome Again-Baby Zip, by Relaunch) won 9 of 11 career starts and earned $3,446,120. He was named Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male in 2004 when he posted a 4-for-4 record. Trained by Hall of Fame member Bobby Frankel, Ghostzapper won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic in stakes-record time, covering the
1¼-mile distance in 1:59.02. That year, he also won the Woodward Stakes, Tom Fool Handicap, and Iselin Handicap. At 3, Ghostzapper won the Vosburgh Stakes. He closed out his career with a victory in the Metropolitan Handicap at age 5. Ghostzapper raced for Frank Stronach and is currently a stallion at Stronach’s Adena Springs in Kentucky.

Velazquez has won 4,803 races, including 733 stakes, and has earned more than $263 million. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005 and led all North American riders in earnings during those years. He led all New York jockeys in wins from 2001 through 2004 and set a record with 65 wins at Saratoga in 2004. Velazquez has won 22 riding titles at New York Racing Association tracks and has nine Breeders’ Cup wins. He posted 50 Grade 1 wins from 2006 through 2011. Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom and the Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches. His other major victories include the Travers, Alabama, Champagne, Sanford, Personal Ensign, Whitney, King’s Bishop, Hollywood Derby, and Kentucky Oaks.

Attfield has saddled the winner of 1,731 races, including 369 stakes, and has purse earnings of more than $88 million. He has won the Sovereign Award for Outstanding Canadian Trainer a record eight times and trained three Canadian Triple Crown winners (Izvestia, With Approval, and Peteski). Attfield has won a record-tying eight runnings of the Queen’s Plate and seven editions of the Canadian Breeders’ Stakes. He won his first Breeders’ Cup race in 2011 when Perfect Shirl took the Filly and Mare Turf. Attfield is a member of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. The many other stakes races he has won in the United States include the Wood Memorial, Flower Bowl, Shadwell Turf Mile, Maker’s Mark Mile, Elkhorn, Yellow Ribbon, Orchid, and Carter Handicap.

Wheeler, whose career spanned from 1938 through 1992, won 1,336 races and trained for prominent owners such as C.V. Whitney, J. Rukin Jelks, Greentree Stable, and Nelson Bunker Hunt. He conditioned 56 stakes-winning horses, including 1982 Champion Older Female Track Robbery. The majority of his career predates the grading of races, but from 1976 on he won 18 of the 69 (26 percent) graded stakes his horses ran in and 44 of his 175 (25 percent) overall stakes attempts. In 1959 and 1960, Wheeler’s West Coast-based division included Tompion, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, and Malibu, and the distaff pair of Bug Brush and Silver Spoon. Bug Brush won six stakes at 4 and set a world record the day she beat males Hillsdale and Terrang in the San Antonio Stakes. Silver Spoon, a member of the Hall of Fame, won 10 stakes in two years, including the trainer’s first of back-to-back wins in the Santa Anita Derby, in which she defeated Preakness winner Royal Orbit. He also sent out five winners of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, which prior to the Breeders’ Cup era was one of the nation’s top races for 2-year-olds. From 1959 through 1969, Wheeler was on the leaders list of the top 30 North American trainers seven times in terms of earnings. His division accounted for more than 60 percent of the earnings of the C.V. Whitney stable when it led all owners in 1960.

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Hall of Fame announces 2012 finalists

Ghostzapper (photo by Brien Bouyea)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Five newcomers and five returning finalists comprise the National Museum of Racing’s 2012 Hall of Fame ballot. The first-time finalists are trainer Roger Attfield and thoroughbreds Ashado, Ghostzapper, Housebuster, and Xtra Heat. They join jockeys Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Alex Solis, and John Velazquez, and trainer Robert Wheeler, all of whom were finalists in 2011.

Hall of Fame voters may select as many candidates as they believe are worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. The four candidates with the highest vote totals will be elected.

The finalists were selected by the Hall of Fame’s 16-member Nominating Committee from a total of 82 candidates suggested throughout the year by turf journalists, thoroughbred industry participants, and racing fans. To be eligible, trainers must have been active for 25 years, and jockeys must have been active for 20 years. Thoroughbreds must have been retired for five years. All

candidates must have been active within the past 25 years. A separate Historic Review Committee is assigned to consider candidates whose careers were completed more than 25 years ago.

The results of the voting on contemporary candidates will be announced on April 23. The induction ceremony will be held at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs on Friday, Aug. 10 at 10:30 a.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Attfield has saddled the winner of 1,727 races, including 369 stakes, and has purse earnings of more than $88 million. He has won the Sovereign Award for Outstanding Canadian Trainer a record eight times and trained three Canadian Triple Crown winners (Izvestia, With Approval, and Peteski). Attfield has won a record-tying eight runnings of the Queen’s Plate and seven editions of the Canadian Breeders’ Stakes. He won his first Breeders’ Cup race in 2011 when Perfect Shirl took the Filly and Mare Turf.

Ashado (Saint Ballado-Goulash, by Mari’s Book) won 12 of her 21 career starts with purse earnings of $3,931,440. She was named Champion 3-Year-Old Female in 2004 and Champion Older Female in 2005. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Ashado won the Spinaway Stakes, Schuylerville Stakes, and Demoiselle Stakes at 2. At 3, she won the Kentucky Oaks, Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Coaching Club American Oaks, Fair Grounds Oaks, and Cotillion Handicap. In her final season, at age 4 in 2005, Ashado won the Go for Wand Handicap, Ogden Phipps Handicap, and the Beldame Stakes.

Ghostzapper (Awesome Again-Baby Zip, by Relaunch) won 9 of 11 career starts and earned $3,446,120. He was named Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male in 2004 when he posted a 4-for-4 record. Trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, Ghostzapper won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic in stakes-record time, covering the 1¼-mile distance of the Classic in 1:59.02. That year, he also won the Woodward Stakes, Tom Fool Handicap, and Iselin Handicap. At 3, Ghostzapper won the Vosburgh Stakes. He closed out his career with a victory in the Metropolitan Handicap at age 5.

Housebuster (Mt. Livermore-Big Dreams, by Great Above) won 15 times in 22 starts and earned $1,229,696. He was named Champion Sprinter in 1990 and 1991. Trained by Hall of Famer Warren A. Croll, Jr., Housebuster won the Jerome Handicap, King’s Bishop, Spectacular Bid, Swale, Hutcheson, Withers, Lafayette, and Derby Trial in 1990 at age 3 en route to an 8-for-10 campaign. A winner of eight consecutive races at one point in his career, Housebuster won the Carter Handicap, Forego Handicap, and Vosburgh Stakes at 4 in 1991. Eleven of his 15 wins were in graded stakes races.

Xtra Heat (Dixieland Heat-Begin, by Hatchet Man) won 26 times and finished out of the money only twice in 35 career starts en route to earning $2,389,635. Trained by John Salzman, Sr., Xtra Heat was named Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in 2001. She won 10 stakes races, including the Grade 1 Prioress. Xtra Heat won six races in a row twice during her career and posted two victories in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap and the Grade 3 Endine Stakes. She also won the Vagrancy Handicap, Genuine Risk Handicap, Beaumont Stakes, and Astarita Stakes.

Borel has won 4,932 races, including 278 stakes, and has earned more than $117 million in purses. He is the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times in a four-year span, accomplishing the feat with Street Sense (2007), Mine That Bird (2009), and Super Saver (2010). His three victories in the Run for the Roses are surpassed only by Hall of Famers Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack with five each and Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker, who has four Derby wins. Borel, one of only two riders with more than 1,000 wins at Churchill Downs (Hall of Famer Pat Day is the other), won the Preakness, Woodward, Haskell, Mother Goose, and Kentucky Oaks with 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Among Borel’s other major victories are the Travers, Alabama, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Sword Dancer, and Stephen Foster. He also won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2010.

Gomez has won 3,569 races, including 530 stakes, and has earned more than $188 million in his career. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2007 and 2008 and led all North American riders in earnings from 2006 through 2009. He won a record 76 stakes races in 2007 and has 12 Breeders’ Cup wins to his credit, including the 2010 Classic with champion Blame. Among Gomez’s major victories are the Pacific Classic, Travers, Santa Anita Derby, Whitney, Stephen Foster, Kentucky Oaks, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Solis has won 4,921 races, including 618 stakes, and has earned more than $228 million. The recipient of the 1997 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, Solis has won three Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2003 Classic with Pleasantly Perfect. He has also won the Preakness and multiple editions of the Santa Anita Derby and Florida Derby. Other major victories for Solis include the Hollywood Derby, Malibu Stakes, Del Mar Futurity, Pacific Classic, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Handicap, and Dubai World Cup.

Velazquez has won 4,771 races, including 733 stakes, and has earned more than $267 million. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005 and led all North American riders in earnings during those years. He led all New York jockeys in wins from 2001 through 2004 and set a record with 65 wins at Saratoga in 2004. Velazquez has won 22 riding titles at New York Racing Association tracks and has nine Breeders’ Cup wins. He posted 50 Grade 1 wins from 2006 through 2011. Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom and the Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches. His other major victories include the Travers, Alabama, Champagne, Sanford, Personal Ensign, Whitney, King’s Bishop, Hollywood Derby, and Kentucky Oaks.

Wheeler, whose career spanned from 1938 through 1992, won 1,336 races and trained for prominent owners such as C.V. Whitney, J. Rukin Jelks, Greentree Stable, and Nelson Bunker Hunt. He conditioned 56 stakes-winning horses, including 1982 Champion Older Female Track Robbery. The majority of his career predates the grading of races, but from 1976 on he won 18 of the 69 (26 percent) graded stakes his horses ran in and 44 of his 175 (25 percent) overall stakes attempts. In 1959 and 1960, Wheeler’s West Coast-based division included Tompion, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, and Malibu, and the distaff pair of Bug Brush and Silver Spoon. Bug Brush won six stakes at 4 and set a world record the day she beat males Hillsdale and Terrang in the San Antonio Stakes. Silver Spoon won 10 stakes in two years, including the trainer’s first of back-to-back wins in the Santa Anita Derby, in which she defeated Preakness winner Royal Orbit. He also sent out five winners of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, which prior to the Breeders’ Cup era was one of the nation’s top races for 2-year-olds. From 1959 through 1969, Wheeler was on the leaders list of the top 30 North American trainers seven times in terms of earnings.

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2011 Hall of Fame finalists announced

John Velazquez (photo by Brien Bouyea)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Jockeys Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer are first-time finalists for election to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Joining them on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot are previous finalists jockey Alex Solis, trainers Gary Jones and Robert Wheeler and Thoroughbreds Open Mind, Safely Kept and Sky Beauty.

Hall of Fame voters may select as many candidates as they believe are worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. The four candidates with the highest vote totals will be elected.

The finalists were selected by the Hall of Fame’s 16-member Nominating Committee from a total of 80 candidates suggested throughout the year by turf journalists, Thoroughbred industry participants and racing fans. To be eligible, trainers must have been active for 25 years and jockeys must have been active for 20 years. Thoroughbreds must have been retired for five years. All candidates must have been active within the past 25 years. A separate Historic Review Committee is assigned to consider candidates whose careers were completed more than 25 years ago.

The results of the voting on contemporary candidates will be announced on May 13. The induction ceremony will be held at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion in Saratoga Springs on Friday, Aug. 12 at 10:30 a.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Borel has won the Kentucky Derby in three of the past four years with Street Sense (2007), Mine That Bird (2009) and Super Saver (2010). His three victories in the Run for the Roses are surpassed only by Hall of Famers Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack with five each and Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker, who has four Derby wins. Borel, one of only two riders with more than 1,000 wins at Churchill Downs (Hall of Famer Pat Day is the other), won the Preakness, Woodward, Haskell, Mother Goose, Kentucky Oaks and other stakes with 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Among Borel’s other major victories are the Travers, Alabama, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Sword Dancer and Stephen Foster. Through 2010, Borel had 4,815 career wins and purse earnings of $113,444,328. He also won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2010.

Gomez won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2007 and 2008 and led all North American riders in earnings from 2006 through 2009. He won a record 76 stakes races in 2007 and has 12 Breeders’ Cup wins to his credit, including the 2010 Classic with champion Blame. Gomez posted eight Grade 1 wins in 2010 and 11 in 2009. Among Gomez’s major victories are the Pacific Classic, Travers, Santa Anita Derby, Whitney, Stephen Foster, Kentucky Oaks and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Through 2010, Gomez had 3,435 career wins and purse earnings of $193,907,844.

Velazquez won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2004 and 2005 and led all North American riders in earnings during those years. He led all New York jockeys in wins from 2001 through 2004 and set a record with 65 wins at Saratoga in 2004. Velazquez has won 21 riding titles at New York Racing Association tracks and has eight Breeders’ Cup wins. He won 12 Grade 1 races in 2010 and posted 43 Grade 1 wins from 2006 through 2010. Velazquez won the Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches and his other major victories include the Travers, Alabama, Champagne, Sanford, Personal Ensign, Whitney, King’s Bishop, Hollywood Derby and Kentucky Oaks. Through 2010, Velazquez had won 4,483 races and ranked fourth all time in purse earnings with $241,248,072.

Hollendorfer has been the dominant trainer in Northern California since the mid-1980s. He won the training championship at every major Bay Area meeting from 1986 through 2008, recording 37 straight titles at Bay Meadows and 32 consecutive crowns at Golden Gate Fields. In 2010, Hollendorfer won five Grade 1 races: the Kentucky Oaks, Alabama and Las Virgenes with champion Blind Luck; the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Dakota Phone; and the Gamely with Tuscan Evening. Hollendorfer ranked fourth in earnings in 2010 with $9,307,328 and third in wins with 286. He was fifth in earnings in 2009 ($7,309,169) and seventh in 2008 ($8,637,578). He was also third in wins in both 2009 (273) and 2008 (282). Hollendorfer won a career-high 308 races in 2004 to finish third in the trainer standings. He has been in the top 10 in wins for 24 consecutive years (1987 through 2010) and has been in the top 10 in earnings 12 times. Through 2010, Hollendorfer ranked fourth in all-time victories (5,863) and eighth all-time in earnings ($119,141,280) among North American trainers.

Solis, the 1997 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award winner, has won three Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2003 Classic with Pleasantly Perfect. He has also won the Preakness and multiple editions of the Santa Anita Derby and Florida Derby. Other major victories for Solis include the Hollywood Derby, Malibu Stakes, Del Mar Futurity, Pacific Classic, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Handicap and Dubai World Cup. Through 2010, Solis had won 4,828 races and had purse earnings of $221,907,872.

Jones, who trained from 1974 through 1996, saddled the winners of 1,465 races from 7,900 starts (18.5 percent). He won 102 graded stakes and 233 overall stakes with purse earnings of $52,672,611. Jones won 15 meeting titles on the Southern California circuit. He twice won the Santa Anita Handicap and was the conditioner of 1986 Champion Older Male Turkoman. In 1991, Jones won the Pacific Classic and the Swaps with future Hall of Famer Best Pal, as well as the Yellow Ribbon and two other stakes with Kostroma. Best Pal’s four stakes wins in 1992 included the Strub, Santa Anita Handicap and Oaklawn Handicap, while Kostrama added the Beverly D, Santa Barbara, Wilshire and Dahlia. In 1993, Jones won the Hollywood Gold Cup with Best Pal among the trainer’s 23 stakes wins for the year.

Wheeler, whose career spanned from 1938 through 1992, won 1,336 races and trained for prominent owners such as C.V. Whitney, J. Rukin Jelks, Greentree Stable and Nelson Bunker Hunt. He conditioned 56 stakes-winning horses, including 1982 Champion Older Female Track Robbery. The majority of his career predates the grading of races, but from 1976 on he won 18 of the 69 (26 percent) graded stakes his horses ran in and 44 of his 175 (25 percent) overall stakes attempts. In 1959 and 1960, Wheeler’s West Coast-based division included Tompion, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes and Malibu, and the distaff pair of Bug Brush and Silver Spoon. Bug Brush won six stakes at four and set a world record for 1 1/8 miles the day she beat males Hillsdale and Terrang in the San Antonio Stakes. Silver Spoon won 10 stakes in two years, including the trainer’s first of consecutive runnings of the Santa Anita Derby, in which she defeated Preakness winner Royal Orbit. He also sent out five winners of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, which prior to the Breeders’ Cup era was one of the nation’s top races for 2-year-olds. From 1959 through 1969, Wheeler was on the leaders list of the top 30 North American trainers seven times in terms of earnings.

Open Mind was the Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of 1988 when she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She won 12 of her 19 career starts, including the New York Filly Triple Crown (the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks) as well as the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes at age 3. Open Mind posted a 10-race win streak, which included seven Grade 1 events. She repeated as her division champion as a 3-year-old and finished her career with nine graded wins among her 11 stakes victories.

Safely Kept raced four years, winning 24 of her 31 starts and accumulated earnings of $2,194,206. She won four of her five starts as a 2-year-old in 1988 and then took eight of her nine races at age 3 to earn the Eclipse Award as Champion Sprinter. At 4, Safely Kept was eight for 10 with seven of those wins in stakes events. She concluded her career with five wins in seven starts as a 5-year-old, including her third victory in the Genuine Risk Handicap, Maryland Million Distaff and Garden State Stakes Handicap.

Sky Beauty won 15 of her 21 starts and had purse earnings of $1,336,000 in her four-year career. She posted a five-race win streak at age 3, which included the New York Filly Triple Crown and the Alabama. At age 4, Sky Beauty posted another five-race win streak, including a 10-length romp in the Go for Wand. She had a brief campaign at 5, adding her second victory in the Vagrancy. Nine of Sky Beauty’s 15 wins were in Grade 1 races.

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